January, supposedly named after the god Janus, a two headed figure who could look to both the future and the past, the reason why we make resolutions at this time of year, to change things in our life. So it’s no surprise then, that we gardeners are very probably this month perusing seed catalogues, drawing up plans, and generally getting our kit ready for the growing year.
Ianuarius – (Latin for January) translates to a doorway – and this is where I feel I am, getting ready to step out into a new adventure. I can’t believe this will be my third year for blogging for T&M! Last year was not my best gardening year due to my cancer, but this year, I really hope to catch up and transform the garden, learn new things and have a lot of fun on the way.
The first thing I learned this year is how powerful plants can be. During my final session of chemotherapy, I decided to google what goes into the drugs that are saving my life. Cabol, was a synthetic and uninteresting drug, but Taxol, as the name suggests, is derived from the Pacific Yew tree. It also contains poisonous plant alkaloids from the periwinkle (Vinca Major) and the American wild mandrake, commonly known as the May Apple. Plus it has extracts from the Asian Happy tree a 40 meter giant that is also grown in Canada – no one would choose to ingest these, no wonder I have felt so rough!
But now with the chemo over I am no longer banned from the greenhouse, so I sit with my seed tins beside me and make a list of everything I want to grow this year. I start by picking out the fruit and veg I want, I’m going to grow both yellow and red tomatoes. Yellow Stuffer, and either Mountain Magic or Sweet Aperitif. I also pick Bullhorn and Sweet Boneta peppers as well as chilli Prairie Fire. The heritage pea Alderman is also on my list. I have asked if I can trial aubergine Listada De Gendia and some melon seeds and some Calendula. I hope I am allowed.
I will also be working on my new grassy knoll area, so I will be growing Banksia Hookeriana, and Horses Tails, as well as a variety of other grasses. When it comes to flowers, I seem to be especially attracted to all things orange this year. I am thinking of buying the Dahlia Jowey Linda, I love its pom-pom shape; I will mostly likely be growing Zinnias, Star or Veldt and Cosmos too.
My other mad plan is I want to have a charity plant sale with all of the extra plants I end up growing. I want to raise money for a local cancer support group who have been amazingly helpful in the last few months. I have no idea if I can achieve everything but I’m definitely going to give it a go.
To kick start the growing year, Mark has already sieved the compost and sown the peas, peppers and chillies. Nothing has germinated yet, but they have only been in for about ten days. The weather has been unusually mild with only one or two days of frost. Most days it’s at least 8 degrees and our lawn is growing, and will probably need a cut soon.
Apart from the germinating seeds, inside the little greenhouse I have some winter flowering shrubs that I had on special offer for £10 back in December from T&M. They are Chimonanthus praecox – ‘Wintersweet’, Viburnum x bodantense ‘Dawn’ plus Sarcococca confusa. I also took advantage of a magazine offer to claim an extra Viburnum X bodantense, fertiliser and snips for just the price of P&P, so it worked out about £4 per shrub. Bargain! The shrubs can be planted any time between now and March, Mark has already repotted them into 9cm pots as the roots are establishing quickly. Ideally the bigger the rootball the better they should settle in the garden.
I am hoping to transplant them in February, I don’t want to take the risk of frost damage or high winds just yet. Also the small flowers on the Wintersweet are making the greenhouse smell divine.
There are also the ever present Aloe Veras, some mint that needs repotting badly, and the Money tree.
In the large greenhouse we have random amaranthus seedlings growing where the aubergines were last year. I have no idea how they got there. The only thing I can think of is the seeds must have lay dormant in the soil from when we grew them at the edge of the wall before the greenhouse was built. I am leaving them grow for now and will transplant them when they are bigger. Amaranthus are really hardy, I have let them dry out completely in pots and they always bounce back. They love the heat and the longer they have in the greenhouse the bigger they become. There is also a Christmas basket containing a baby conifer and an ivy. The basket also contained Poinsettia, but it didn’t seem to live very well in our house. These plants are going to go into the garden eventually, but for now they are getting used to no longer being in the central heated warmth.
Another offer that T&M did with a magazine recently was to claim 40 free Gladioli bulbs for just £5.95. I wasn’t going to order them, but then I started reading the Margery Fish Cottage Garden Plants book, and her enthusiasm rubbed off on me, so I accidentally bought them too! Whilst I have longed for a cottage style garden, her insight showed me an obvious flaw in why I can’t really have the garden I desire. A cottage garden is usually surrounded by stone walls. Walls that will hold in the heat and protect the plants, we have a wooden picket fence along our front garden meaning that although it will filter the wind and offer some protection, it’s not ideal. Although saying that I do have success growing lupins and and foxgloves so there is hope yet.
My brother, Andrew, has recently bought a Veg Trug™ and flower pouches so he and his girls can grow strawberries and vegetables this year. He also says he going to finish building his greenhouse. (This is an ongoing saga, but at least now the base has been done.) My niece was so excited when I sent her and her sisters some seeds to try. I gave them lettuce, carrots, basil and tomatoes. Things that should germinate easily and quickly so they don’t have to wait too long for the results. It’s so good to see youngsters getting involved in gardening and making the connection between the land and the plate. Hopefully it will set them up to make healthy food choices and encourage them to be outdoors rather than inside on a computer. As well growing their own produce the girls regularly help their grandparents in the greenhouse, and me in mine when they visit.
Mum has two projects on the go, firstly she wants to grow her own tomatoes this year, but she wants to raise them from seed. So she is making a cold frame from the vegetable trays from her old fridge. I like this idea of recycling the plastic boxes, as they already have drainage holes in them and they are deep enough to hold several pots. Her other task is to redesign her tiny front garden. When I say tiny, I mean it, as you can see from the picture. She wants to keep the roses and the gravel but she says she wants a new theme. I am rubbish at designing and my gardening style is too wild for her. By that I mean I grow for nature rather than myself. I have native flowers, wild flowers and stinging nettles in borders for the butterflies. I grow sedums, hebe and ivy for the bees, honeysuckle for the ladybirds and leave the seed heads on Verbena Bonarienses for the Blue Tits. I love the dandelions, buttercups, thistles, clover and daisies that grow in our lawns which most people, including Mark, hate. In return I am rarely plagued by pests. The worst I have is earwigs in the dahlias, as looking after the insects means we have a variety of other creatures visiting our garden. We have a massive family of house sparrows, as well as a resident wren, robin and collard doves. We have a family of blackbirds and magpies, plus plenty of other feathered friends too. We have bats feeding in the summer, foxes, hedgehogs, and slow worms. Not bad for an urban garden in the industrial side of Pembrokeshire.
So there’s plenty to look forward to. Soon it will be time for my daffodils, grape hyacinth and crocuses to flower, they are budding, and there is new growth coming on last year’s trial Antirrhinums, these have stayed out all winter in a hanging basket on a west facing wall. They are yet to be named, and I didn’t see them in the catalogue, so I’m intrigued to see what other trialists make of them and if they were a success. I’m hoping to start off my sweet peas next. Then the potatoes.
Until next time.
I hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Year and are now ready for the new gardening year ahead.
During the summer of 2016 I planted Passiflora Caerulea and it soon grew to eight feet, must really have loved it in the full sun. I had around six flowers on it by early Autumn and then I noticed the fruit about the size of an egg appearing and turning gradually yellow. By then the days were colder but left them on the plant to see if they developed any further. The first week of January I decided to take the fruit off and cut them open and was very surprised to see that there was a lot of ripe flesh inside. I decided not to eat them as they had been around for a while and was not sure if they were edible after so long.
The Freesias I planted back in October started to grow far too quickly so I put more compost on them so the frost wouldn`t catch the tops but that only helped the local cats to use my containers as their toilet and scratched up the bulbs several times. Not wanting to to use anything that would hurt the cats but would stop them I asked a neighbour if I could have some branches of holly from her bush. That really did the trick with no damage to man nor beast.
On a mild day I checked the garden and noticed the Nemesia I had planted in a coloured pot during last summer were still growing and flowering as was some Cerinthe Major whose seeds had dropped on to the garden and had started to shoot, the plants are standing around 12” tall at the moment but I am afraid that when we get some very hard frosts it could be goodbye to them. My Hydranga `Annabelle` which had beautiful huge balls of white flowers, were still holding their own even though all the white heads are now brown, but still looking beautiful.
This Autumn I decided to plant up a couple of containers with a Winter Collection of small shrubs which gives a very nice show of various colours, and in the summer can be planted out in the garden.
My roses are in four containers but don`t really seem to be happy they all lost their leaves at one point and I did wonder if it was irregular watering that was causing it, although the bottoms of the containers were quite wet, so I am making room to put them into the border in front of a fence. If anyone has any answers re losing their leaves I would be very pleased to hear from you, this is their third year. The roses bloomed and looked great apart from the loss of leaves..
Having won Gold and Silver awards for my Container garden and hanging basket in 2016 for the Bournemouth in Bloom competition, I now have the challenge of turning the silver into gold for this year!
I have been making a provisional list of plants which I would like to grow from Thompson & Morgan for 2017 summer, I expect that will be re-written a couple of times before the final one. First of all we have to move a 5 ft.garden storage box and a small garden cupboard. The larger one is right into a corner and appears to be making the wall damp so will have to do some clearing out and moving it to under the kitchen window – fingers crossed.
I am hoping to try out a couple of Thompson & Morgan`s new Easy Fill baskets, I think the idea of having a solid piece of plastic holding the plants tight in their holes will stop the compost from falling out.
……………. so until we meet again, have fun deciding what you are going to grow this year, it`s getting lighter longer every day – hooray!!
It’s been a rather busy six months for me. I can’t quite see where my time has gone. Well, I say that, I spent a lot of it working in my client gardens. Unfortunately, this meant that I wasn’t able to look after my own pots as much as I’d have liked to. It certainly put the Fuchsia Berry to the Test! It really grew lots over the summer and it bloomed lovely to my surprise.
I had my first Berries from the plant in July. Albeit only a few. Never the less, I had berries and my first victims, umm I mean candidates, to try the berries and the flowers (along with myself) were my parents and my guinea pig. I wish I had been able to record my parent’s reactions, they were priceless! I did get a snap of Oscar trying his. He wasn’t too sure.
(I will apologise if you have been following me on twitter as I am using the same pictures in this blog as I have published on there!)
We all tried the flowers first. I ate each piece individually, which is probably best when you first try them as each bit tastes different. Mum on the other hand put the whole thing in in one go and then proceeded to proclaim, while screwing her face up ‘how could you give me something so foul! You evil child!’ All in jest of course. My dad had played the tactical game waiting for our responses before he would dare to try it. Now he was a little put off by mum’s reaction but I managed to get him to try a bit and after a few small bites he said he didn’t mind it but wouldn’t rush to have another one.
The berries were a different story. We all enjoyed them and I got my Grandad to try some when I had a few more and gave him some to take home to nanny for her to try. They never made it home. I don’t think they even made it out of the door!
The berries to me taste like a cross between a blueberry and a grape. The skin has a slightly bitter taste but that maybe because I was feeding my plant with Worm Tea from my wormery.
Over the next few months I trapped more people into trying my berries. Nearly everyone who I asked to try them were dubious whether I was trying to poison them. Ye of little faith! Of course, I promised the I wasn’t and I ate them in front of them to prove that I was going to be poisoned as much as they were. Their responses were much the same as mine. They either said blueberry or grape or a mix of the two.
When it came to the flowers though a few really protested that you can’t eat Fuchsia flowers. Even with me eating them in front of them and explaining that Thompson and Morgan have tested it and verified it is safe they still wouldn’t. Those who did try them had a similar response to my dad. Although they did say that it wasn’t what they were expecting but they did taste ok and would eat them again if they were on their plate.
I think the reason why the flowers got such a bad reaction from my mum and an alternative reaction from others that tried them was because they don’t taste anything like you expect them to. They trick you. Being the hot pink and purple that they are, you expect them to be sweet like most other things of their colouring are. But don’t be fooled. When in their prime picking season, mid-summer, the stamens have a fiery kick to them, like pepper crossed with chilli and the petals and bracts taste like rocket and red mustard leaves. If you want to give your salad an exotic twist this is certainly the thing to do it with.
It was my mum’s birthday in August so, being the good daughter that I am, I made her a birthday cake. Chocolate sponge with chocolate fudge icing and chocolate sprinkle and sugar flowers. Pretty eurgh if you ask me, but then I don’t really like chocolate. More of a tomato girl. Any way just before I lit the candles and we sung the obligatory ‘Happy Birthday’ I went out into the garden and picked some Flowers along with some of my home-grown strawberries to finish the cake off. I think they added that extra little bit of pizzazz! Although mum still wouldn’t eat them even with Chocolate fudge icing on them.
The Fuchsia Berry is certainly a good conversation starter and this year I hope to see if feeding it sugar water makes a difference to how it tastes. But for now, it is tucked up in fleece inside my heated greenhouse.
I wish you all a Happy New Year and a prosperous and plentiful growing season to come,
Having heard Prime Minister, Teresa May, speaking earlier this week about her plans to ‘transform’ attitudes to mental health and to provide improved support to sufferers, I was remembering that someone told me once that spider plants were great to have around, at home and in the office, as they could help lift mood and alleviate depression. We’ve all heard about the therapeutic value of gardening and I even heard on the radio recently that some enlightened GPs are actually giving suitable patients prescriptions for mental health-promoting gardening projects.
I wondered if there was any scientific evidence that supports the idea that plants are good for mental health. Certainly, when I did an internet search for ‘mental health and plants’, it threw up a long list of articles, research and advice. The general consensus seems to be that having plants in your home and in your work space can really improve negatives such as anxiety, depression and tension, whilst improving productivity and reducing fatigue.
The areas in which plants can have a positive effect on our mood and productivity are many and varied according to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). It appears that the benefits of living and working around indoor plants have been shown to include:
– Improved mood
– A reduction in stress
– Increased productivity
– Improvements in attention span and concentration
Physical health improvements have been shown to include:
– Reductions in breathing problems
– Reductions in blood pressure levels
– Reductions in levels of fatigue and headaches
And the fact that patients in hospital rooms with plants report better pain tolerance is a bit spooky, but brilliant! There’s science to prove this; research from Kansas State University in 2008 showed that hospital patients treated in rooms where plants were situated, needed lower levels of pain killers
It appears that the plants trap and filter air pollutants in the home – kitchen products, air fresheners, faulty boilers – and at work – bacteria, dust, cleaning products, creating better air quality. Apparently just one plant per 3 employees can improve air quality in an office and can reduce CO2, dust and bacteria. I even found a study by NASA no less, saying that they’d found that plants are able to absorb and break down even quite harmful chemicals in the air through their leaves, creating a healthier indoor eco-system.
It sounds like a no-brainer! If we’re going to be happier and healthier in the home or at work if we import a few plants, let’s do it! Obviously we don’t want to live and work in a semi-forest environment, but within reason, it’s not difficult or costly to bring a bit of greenery into your life.
It seems that the visual benefits – and hopefully the health benefits too – of bringing plants inside is being recognised by retail companies and restaurants. We’ve noticed that various eateries and shops seem to have jumped on the vertical garden trend bandwagon. Here’s a fabulous wall of greenery that we spotted in west elm on London’s Tottenham Court Road.
Leigh Hunt, one of the authors of the RHS paper which discussed the benefits of bringing plants inside, said that you don’t need to surround yourself with exotic or expensive plants, ‘a spider plant is a good choice, or even common English ivy’. I can’t say I’d want ivy growing in my house – I’m in a long-running battle with ivy growing over our shed – but it was good to read that Mr Hunt has confirmed my long-held, but unsubstantiated view that the humble spider plant was thought to be a good mood-enhancing house plant to grow.
Prime Minister, Teresa May’s speech also emphasised the need to provide more help and support for young people with mental health issues. Having read about research showing that plants and greenery can help to reduce stress and blood pressure in students and young people whilst encouraging their concentration, I plan to continue with my practice of giving my children and their friends a home-grown spider plant as a ‘going off to university’ gift.
I love spider plants. Not only do they have a kind of ‘70s kitsch thing about them, which adds a bit of nostalgic fun, but they are incredibly easy to grow and seem to be virtually immune to neglect. And I should know! I don’t remember to water mine as often as I should, but they still seem to sprout their ‘babies’ at the ends of their long tendrils. They look great perched on a shelf at home or at work, and if you need a new one (for aforementioned students or others in need of a mood lift) you can just snip off one of the ‘babies’ and stick it in some compost in a pot, water it when you remember and hey presto! a new spider plant grows.
Other plants that are suitable for indoor growing, and which would suit an office environment too, are aloe, cacti, succulents, ivy, rubber plants and peace lilies. These are generally fairly low maintenance and should support conditions produced by air conditioning and possible neglect during times when the office might be empty.
I’ve got a spider plant positioned on top of my in-tray on my desk at work now, so I’ll have to let you know if I notice marked improvements in my productivity and general cheeriness!
Christmas? Well thank goodness that’s over! So used to being outdoors am I (virtuous, smug) that being confined to quarters made me as sleepy as a dormouse. I reckon I was spending 14 hours a day either in or on the bed! Buoyed up by the prospect of increased day length (1 minute per day, yippee!) I have taken to mooching around the garden, peering at the earth for signs of life. And I haven’t been disappointed: crocus, snowdrops, narcissi; pulmonaria, cyclamen, Lords and Ladies; hellebores, scuttelaria integrifolia (Blue Helmet, cross between mint and salvia – look it up, it’s a thug but great for shade), sedum; and at eye level Clematis Freckles, little darling it is!
At this time of year there is no hiding place for hangers on I can tell you! I have been stalking around, beady eye looking out for howlers and as a result have a lovely list of removals in the offing: A variegated Philadelphus in a patio container never flowers well due to lack of bright sunlight and contributes nothing of interest to the winter displays. Where to put it in the borders though? It’s like the Domino effect here, what can I move on to make room for it? David reckons if he stands still too long he won’t be safe either! I can’t wait to get that clumsy spotted laurel out after sneering at it for years (ruthless terminator!) and replace it with Cornus Kousa Robert’s Selecte. The tree peony will be looking for a good home too. It doesn’t warrant its position as focal point of the fernery. Poor thing has only produced 3 flowers in its 5 year existence due to low light levels. I am rubbing my hands together in glee at the boundless planting possibilities: Maybe the T&M Blechnum Brasiliensis Volcano?
No more excuses! The miscanthus has to be lifted and divided in spring before it swallows up neighbouring thalictrum and euphatorium. Oh the effort, the mess, the clearance! Ah, but once it’s done think of the extra space. (Do you have two little green men on your shoulders arguing away behind your back? Only wish they could do the digging as well.) And bidens Hannay’s Lemon Drop is creeping through the salvia uliginosa and has to be stopped before it takes over. Trouble is, that whole section of bed will have to come up to separate them all. Perleeease! I’m exhausted already!
Some things seem to be a bridge too far though, like resolving to grow culinary herbs outside the back door. Trouble is, they start off vigorously enough in Spring, but by summer the passiflora canopy has shaded them out, and or the cats have been grazing on them. Maybe hanging baskets?
It’ll be a month or so before I can really get stuck in, but I shall console myself during the frosts by scouring the new Spring T&M catalogue. Plenty of sumptuous ideas for container planting, as well as delicious new tomato and veg varieties. A Must-Have addition to the allotment will be strawberry Just Add Cream, introduced to us at last Summer’s T&M Triallist’s Open Day. But more about the forthcoming year’s trials in my next blog.
In the meantime, here are some of my personal favourites from our garden throughout 2016:
Cleaning Garden tools for winter
A good garden tool isn’t just for Christmas ….
A cliché, but true. Proper tool maintainance, from the humble trowel to the mighty cultivator, will extend their useful life considerably. Regular cleaning, oiling, sharpening and generally looking after them will also make your life a lot easier. Some tools may only need an annual service whilst others will benefit from being cleaned after each use.
I have to admit that I’m no angel all the time when it comes to this, and I’m sure there have been times when we’ve all left a pair of secateurs outside or put dirty spades and forks away in the shed. When was the last time you sharpened your shears properly and gave your Dutch hoe some TLC?
As it’s now that time of year when a lot of the garden has been put to bed and tools are away for the winter. The lawn mower has gone into hibernation in the shed or garage like a bear settling down for the winter and even the hedge cutter can find a roost and be hung up until it’s needed again.
But before all that happens, I need to be kind to my tools so that I can use them when I need to come spring!
First of all, anything with a blade I will give a good clean. I’ll use a strong detergent, water as hot as I can bear a scrubbing brush and one of those sponges with a scourer on one side. It’s so easy to let a build up of rubbish, gunk, sap etc accumulate, especially on secateurs and loppers; scrape off the worst of it using another blade (I use the knife on my trusty Multitool) and then give them a good scrub. Once they’re all clean and dried, sharpen them using a file or whetstone if you have one, they’re cheap to buy anyway and well worth getting one. You’ll get a much keener edge on the blade, which will make pruning later on much easier and you’ll also get a cleaner cut, which will reduce the chances of disease getting in! One I’ve sharpened the blade, checked it and put a plaster on my thumb where I found out it was VERY sharp, I put a drop of oil on the hinge and any other parts that move and I also then spray the blades with WD40.
Next on my list are the hand tools; the trowels, spades, rakes and hoes etc. These are usually the ones that take the hardest beating each year, and so also end up looking the worst of all.
A good scrape of the worst of the built up dirt followed by a wire brush to really give them a thorough clean and then the detergent and scourer again to finish them off. Once the metal parts have all dried I wipe them over with an oily rag or again a light spray with WD40
I have heard a tip from a friend who has a bucket of sharp sand in his shed, which has been mixed with motor oil, when he comes in with used tools, he plunges them in and out of the bucket, the sand helps to clean the tools and the oil preserves against rust. I haven’t tried this I admit, it sounds like a good idea, but knowing me, I’d stub my toe on the bucket or kick it over!
Although much rarer these days, some of my tools have wooden handles, these handle can dry out and potentially split, or become weak and break under strain. A clean, light sanding and then a liberal dose of teak oil keeps the wood in good condition and also helps to keep it more flexible too.
I know a lot of people recommend and use linseed oil on their gardening tools, to preserve blades, prevent rust and on wooden handles etc. I am perhaps overly cautious though and don’t really want to have anything that could potentially burst into flames if I forget to do something like clear up properly. I’ll stick with WD40 and teak oil, thank you very much!
I’m not a mechanic by any means but I do carry out a few simpler tasks on any garden machinery I own. For major things I always use a professional as it’s just not worth doing a “bodge” job on any piece of machinery that could go wrong and be expensive to replace!
Cleaning is probably the most important part, especially on your lawn mower, the build up inside the deck of old grass, mud, leaves and goodness knows what else can lead to rust holes on a metal deck, or an inefficient grass collection, the blades catching in internal debris can be harmful too.
If you have a petrol mower, tip it back in the direction recommended by the manufacturer, if you don’t then trust me, the oil can go everywhere, and this can REALLY mess things up later on. I usually use an old paint scraper to get rid of the worst, then it’s back to brushes and hot soapy water to give it a thorough scrub. Whilst you’re waiting for it to dry off, take the blade off if you can (wearing gloves of course) and test the cutting edges. Sharpen using a file, balance it and put it back. If in doubt, take it somewhere that can sharpen mower blades and balance them properly. If a rotary mower blade isn’t balanced then the vibrations it will cause when in use will seriously harm the machine, not to mention it being absolutely awful to use too!
Check the oil regularly of course, and clean out air filters, or replace them, this goes for all petrol machinery throughout the year. It’s a similar routine for tillers and any other large, driven machinery. As a matter of course, before I start any machine, I always check the spark plug lead is intact and that it’s firmly seated onto the plug itself, this is from past experience and prevents some head scratching as to why the machine won’t start!
The internal workings of some of my electrical equipment I honestly leave well alone. I’m nowhere near qualified to take my hedge trimmer apart, so I don’t. I really good clean and brush down, Good old WD40 on all the moving parts and check all the wires and plugs for damage is about all I can do.
Obviously make sure your storage area is clean and dry too, no point cleaning everything up & putting it away only to find the more rust has accumulated over the winter!
These are definitely “chores” every year, but I’ve found that it’s well worth it, keep your favourite tools clean and tidy and you’ll have as much pride in them as you will your garden!
Obviously more hints and tips are more than welcome from everyone!